Somewhere along the way Asataroh Akiba failed to hear the old Japanese proverb “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”. Or he decided to ignore it.
Akiba-san skis Southwest Hokkaido’s slopes, and many others around the world, backwards. In the 30 years he has been doing this he has never met such a skiing “fellow traveler”.
Akiba-san decided forward skiing was not for him when, as a novice in the 1970s, he found that even after a few years learning to ski in the regular downhill manner he had not progressed past “pizza stance”, or in the old terminology, a beginner’s snow plough. “I decided that if I was no good at forward skiing I should switch to backwards skiing,” he says. “After a few years of skiing backwards I was as fast as I was skiing forwards, so I customised my skis to make it easier to ski backwards.”
TEXT: KATHY STUART
PHOTOS: KRISTIAN LUND
APPEARS IN: POWDERLIFE 2018 EDITION
The Chiba city native’s early skiing days were spent around the Yuzawa area – Shiga Kougen and Norikura – an easy Shinkansen ride from Tokyo. His first overseas trip was to France in 1975. Then came Italy, Canada and 10 trips to New Zealand. “When it was summer in Japan it was winter in New Zealand so I could ski all year round,” he says. “I had a lot of fans for my backward skiing there.” n more recent years he has chosen to ski in Hokkaido, especially Rusutsu. “I enjoy the Rusutsu course – it suits my skiing because I can go really fast and ski top to bottom in one run. It usually takes me about three minutes but I can go faster when there aren’t too many people on the runs.”
Are there any advantages to skiing backwards? According to Akiba-san there are many – enough to fill a booklet to encourage others. Good points include: “When you ski backwards you can interact with other skiers face-to face (handy if an attractive person skies by); you can take videos of others more easily; and you can see the tracks you have made in the snow.”
Akiba-san said while most people might be a bit embarrassed by skiing backwards he believes the ski field is a place for having fun. “The kids love it when I ski backwards,” he says. “I thought ‘I can do whatever I like, as long as it is fun.’ I enjoy making other people smile.”